Brand Niemann champions collaboration

EPA’s data architect does the groundwork to facilitate electronic data exchanges.

Brand Niemann emerged in the past four years as a prominent promoter of open, standards-based collaboration and electronic information sharing throughout government and with partners in the private sector. As the Environmental Protection Agency’s data architect, Niemann is known for using collaborative wikis to facilitate sharing ideas, solving problems and innovating.

Wikis are Web sites where people with shared interests — communities of practice — create and edit Web pages that facilitate their collaboration.

Niemann received an innovation award in 2002 from the Office of Management and Budget and the Quad Council for using VoiceXML Web services to improve the agency’s emergency response capabilities. The Quad Council includes the CIO, Chief Financial Officers, Procurement Executive and Human Resources Managers councils.

Niemann led an interagency team that translated emergency information on the Web into voice data so that people without Internet access could get the same information.

Mark Forman, then-director of e-government projects at OMB, and members of the CIO Council recognized that Niemann had more to offer. Council members asked him to become the chairman of the Web Services Working Group under the CIO Council’s Architecture and Infrastructure Committee.

“I was plucked from obscurity,” Niemann said.

Since then, Niemann has become a leader in championing the government’s adoption of data-sharing technologies, Extensible Markup Language, knowledge management and Web services.

“Brand is very energetic, willing and able to reach across a broad spectrum of communities” to achieve open, standards-based information sharing, said John Moeller, a senior principal engineer at Northrop Grumman and co-chairman of the Geospatial Ontology Community of Practice.

Niemann’s Web services work led members of the CIO Council’s Best Practices Committee to tap him for the chairmanship of the Semantic Interoperability Community of Practice (SICOP). Semantic interoperability refers to the ability of information systems or services to exchange data using a common vocabulary to guarantee that concepts and their interrelationships are not misinterpreted.

He also has been instrumental in helping others work in a collaborative environment using the CIO Best Practice Committee wiki, said Linda Ibrahim, chief engineer for process improvement at the Federal Aviation Administration and co-chairwoman of the Enterprise Process Improvement Community of Practice (EPIC).

“Brand helped us out at our [recent] EPIC meeting, demonstrating how we could easily share files for discussion via the wiki,” Ibrahim said. “And don’t forget all this cross-government [communities of practice] work is considered voluntary, basically meaning do it when everything else is done.”

The Brand Niemann fileTitle: Data architect at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of the Chief Information Officer and co-chairman of the CIO Council’s Semantic Interoperability Community of Practice.

Education: Niemann has a doctorate in meteorology from the University of Utah and did postdoctoral work at George Mason University in statistics and computer science.

Family: Niemann’s first wife died in 1981. He has since remarried and has seven children and 14 grandchildren.

Hobbies: He plays drums, timpani and other percussion instruments with the Mormon Choir of Washington, D.C. He is also involved in helping the Greater Georgia Chapter of the Autism Society of America and the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business with their Autism by Autistics Project using semantic wikis.

Here are some other power players in the technologyPaul Kurtz, executive director of the Cyber Security Industry Alliance. Kurtz has worked to improve cybersecurity through public policy, education and technology-related initiatives.

John McManus, NASA’s deputy chief information officer and chief technology officer and chairman of the CIO Council’s IPv6 Working Group. McManus was a leader in developing NASA’s information technology architecture. Now he is applying his expertise to help other agencies upgrade their networks to IPv6.

Kim Nelson, executive director for e-government at Microsoft and former CIO at the Environmental Protection Agency. Nelson left the EPA well-positioned to support citizen-centric government.

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